HC Deb 08 June 1999 vol 332 cc492-5 5.16 pm
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it illegal to import into the United Kingdom any meat or food product originating from any country where animal welfare standards are not certified as being equivalent to animal welfare standards in the United Kingdom. The purpose of the Bill—which has an added relevance, given the statement that the House has just heard—is straightforward. Over the years, at the behest of constituents and consumers, the UK has been continuously improving animal welfare standards. Sadly, such improvements have not been matched in other EU member states or in other countries generally. Meat products are increasingly being imported from countries without such high animal welfare standards, undermining British agriculture. Clearly, this is crazy.

The Bill has broad support across the House. It has the support of a number of former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Ministers, those representing rural constituencies and Members from both sides of the House who are known to take a leading interest in animal welfare issues. It is a Bill on which consumers, farmers and those concerned with animal welfare can unite.

British agriculture is suffering its worst crisis for 60 years, with falling farm incomes and rising debts. There are reports of farmers having to sell healthy calves for just 29p each—less than the price of a pint of milk. There are fears that a substantial proportion of pig farmers may be driven out of production because of their losses. The average age of farmers in the UK is estimated to be 58. One wonders what the prospects are for UK farming if that continues. Who will take over, and what will happen to our rural communities?

As Members who were in the House at the time will recall, the UK—at the behest of hundreds of constituents—raised its standards for meat production in pig farming, banning the use of stalls and tethers from 1 January this year. Elsewhere in the EU, the ban on the use of tethers is not due to come into effect until 2005, and there is no ban at present on the use of stalls.

As the ban came into effect in the UK after a seven-year phase-out, the cost to the producer amounted to a margin reduction of about £18 per sow, per year, and a reduction of 85p per pig produced per year. Pig farmers have estimated that the costs of the enhanced animal welfare standards here add a further £4.50 to the production costs of each pig—something that has not been borne elsewhere in the EU or the world.

It is not only in pig production that we have higher welfare standards. We have higher standards for veal calves in the United Kingdom, and the European Union generally has higher standards on hormones in beef and on antibiotics than elsewhere in the world. The British Pig Association estimates that the additional investment cost to the UK pig industry of the enhanced animal welfare standards has been about £220 million, and that the operating cost for the slaughter of each pig has increased by £1.50. We have extra costs, which our competitors do not have to meet, for slaughter as well as for enhanced animal welfare standards.

In evidence to the Agriculture Committee, the British Pig Association said: In complying with the bans on sow stalls and tether systems and use of meat and bonemeal in pig feeds and by introducing effective national quality assurance schemes with due traceability, UK pigs, and therefore their products, have achieved distinct superiority over those in other EU or third countries. The industry is entitled to believe that it should receive just recognition of these achievements and merit appropriate reward in the market place. Sadly, that is not happening. The association went on to say: Because multiple retailers and caterers appear not to secure financial advantage from the higher UK specification they appear to be, to varying degrees … adopting double standards: insisting on a high UK specification while accepting imports that do not meet those standards. In other words, retailers and supermarkets are increasing their imports of pigmeat and other meat products from elsewhere that do not come up to the high UK welfare standards.

It is not only pig producers and farmers who say that. The British Veterinary Society accused retailers of ignoring welfare, traceability and food safety standards in a quest for cheaper meat and fatter profits. The BVS commented that increasing quantities of cheap pigmeat are being brought in from Europe and labelled as "packaged in Britain", without conforming to the conditions that have been enforced on British farms.

The BVS is concerned that pigmeat is derived from pigs that have been treated with medicines that cannot be used legally in the UK: for example, thallium, a preservative in vaccines. It gave many examples of pigs produced elsewhere in the European Union and in countries such as Poland not conforming to standards that would be accepted here.

The president of the BVS said: Retailers should not then drop all principles, buy in cheap, imported products and try to deceive the public by clever labelling. Consumers are entitled to have products on the supermarket shelf clearly labelled and UK farmers are entitled to get the benefits of the investment that they have made in full traceability and better-quality farm assurance.

That view is supported unanimously by the Agriculture Committee, whose report said: The Government should redouble its efforts to secure an early and positive review of the EC directive relating to stalls and tethers. It continued: We regret the fact that the EU standards have been allowed to lag so far behind the UK's and want to see any future changes in animal welfare legislation imposed and implemented on a uniform basis throughout the EU. The report said: We also consider that the retailers and manufacturers should support government efforts to provide for higher standards of animal welfare by not directing their purchases to cheaper producers elsewhere and by insisting that European suppliers maintain the same standards … The Government should also amend the procurement contracts of Ministries, Departments and other public bodies to ensure that all pigmeat is sourced to welfare standards no lower than the UK specification. That view is supported by UK farmers. The British Pig Association, not unreasonably, said: We believe that government could do more to ensure that their own purchasing departments (MoD etc) and departments that have influence over other public purchasing agencies"— such as local authorities— source product up to the UK's high standards. The association continued: In the case of pigmeat, government should set out guidelines and exert greater influence on securing pork, bacon and other pigmeat products that comply with the high UK standards of quality assurance, traceability, animal welfare and food safety. Those are points that the recent Belgian scare has made only too well.

It is not only pig farmers who should be entitled to feel the benefits of investment in high welfare standards. We should also be investigating how the import of meat and meat products produced by methods illegal in the UK can be stopped for beef, poultry and eggs. The Bill is a proportionate measure and I hope that it will have the full support of every hon. Member. I also hope that it will unite consumers, farmers and those concerned about animal welfare.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 173, Noes 0.

Division No. 201] [5.26 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Allan, Richard Cummings, John
Amess, David Curry, Rt Hon David
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Dalyell, Tam
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Ashton, Joe Davidson, Ian
Baker, Norman Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Baldry, Tony Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Ballard, Jackie Dawson, Hilton
Barnes, Harry Day, Stephen
Beard, Nigel Donohoe, Brian H
Beggs, Roy Drew, David
Beith, Rt Hon A J Drown, Ms Julia
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Duncan, Alan
Bennett, Andrew F Edwards, Huw
Benton, Joe Evans, Nigel
Berry, Roger Faber, David
Borrow, David Fallon, Michael
Boswell, Tim Fearn, Ronnie
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Brady, Graham Flint, Caroline
Brake, Tom Foster, Don (Bath)
Brand, Dr Peter Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gardiner, Barry
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) George, Andrew (St Ives)
Buck, Ms Karen George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Burnett, John Gibb, Nick
Burns, Simon Gibson, Dr Ian
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Gill, Christopher
Campbell—Savours, Dale Godman, Dr Norman A
Cawsey, Ian Green, Damian
Chapman, Sir Sydney Greenway, John
(Chipping Barnet) Grieve, Dominic
Chaytor, David Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Clappison, James Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hammond, Philip
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Hancock, Mike
Cohen, Harry Heald, Oliver
Collins, Tim Healey, John
Colvin, Michael Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Corbyn, Jeremy Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David
Cormack, Sir Patrick Hinchliffe, David
Cotter, Brian Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cran, James Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Crausby, David Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jenkin, Bernard Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Keetch, Paul Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Randall, John
Key, Robert Redwood, Rt Hon John
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Rendel, David
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Ruffley, David
Lansley, Andrew Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Leigh, Edward St Aubyn, Nick
Letwin, Oliver Sarwar, Mohammad
Levitt, Tom Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lidington, David Shipley, Ms Debra
Livingstone, Ken Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Livsey, Richard Skinner, Dennis
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Smith, Angele (Basildon)
Llwyd, Elfyn Smith, Miss Geraldine
Love, Andrew (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Luff, Peter Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McDonnell, John Spelman, Mrs Caroline
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spring, Richard
McIntosh, Miss Anne Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mackinlay, Andrew Stringer, Graham
Maclean, Rt Hon David Stunell, Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick Syms, Robert
Madel, Sir David Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Malins, Humfrey Townend, John
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Trend, Michael
May, Mrs Theresa Tyler, Paul
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Tyrie, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin Vis, Dr Rudi
Moffatt, Laura Waterson, Nigel
Mountford, Kali Webb, Steve
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) White, Brian
Naysmith, Dr Doug Whittingdale, John
Nicholls, Patrick Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Oaten, Mark Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
O'Hara, Eddie Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Öpik, Lembit Wise, Audrey
Ottaway, Richard Wyatt, Derek
Palmer, Dr Nick Yeo, Tim
Pendry, Tom Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Pickles, Eric Tellers for the Ayes:
Pike, Peter L Mr. James Gray and
Pond, Chris Mr. Andrew Robathan.
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. John Bercow.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tony Baldry, Mr. Roy Beggs, Mrs. Angela Browning, Mr. David Curry, Mr. David Faber, Mr. Douglas Hogg, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Mr. Archy Kirkwood, Mr. David Prior, Angela Smith and Mr. Tim Yeo.